Arundhati unleashed

Making rapid strides... Arundhati Pantawane with the gold medal she won at the National Games in Ranchi. To her left is the men's singles winner Guru Sai Dutt.-MANOB CHOWDHURY

Ever since Arundhati Pantawane came into the limelight with her remarkable showing in the Nationals last year, she has been chugging along majestically. “I have to maintain the momentum,” she says in a chat with K. Keerthivasan.

In the badminton final of the National Games in Ranchi recently, Arundhati Pantawane took P. C. Thulasi of Kerala by complete surprise. With the score reading 15-15 in the third and deciding game, Arundhati tore her opponent apart with pure aggression. Pinpoint smashes to the corners, precise placements for winners and commendable agility were the high points of her game.

“The last six points she played like a boy. High speed and raw power, she was too good,” said Thulasi.

According to the Maharashtra coach, Leroy D' Sa, Arundhati is capable of much more. “It's all in her mind. If only she could sort that out,” he said.

A trainee of the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad, Arundhati shot into the limelight when she reached the final of the National Championships in Rohtak last year as a qualifier. The 21-year-old player, hailing from Nagpur, spoke to Sportstar about her game and her future.

On how she took up badminton:

I was an athlete. I used to take part in 100m, 200m and 100m hurdles. My father Avinash Pant was an athletics coach, while my mother Chitra was an athlete. When I was 10 years old, I used to go with my father to play badminton in Nagpur. I slowly started playing in district-level tournaments.

Once it so happened that the dates of my 100m final (School Games) and badminton (district-level Under-13) final clashed. My parents asked me to play in the badminton final, and though I lost, my badminton journey began then.

On reaching the final of the National Championship:

I remember every match clearly. In a way it was funny. I entered the tournament as a qualifier. I received a bye in the first qualifying round, and I qualified in the second round. In the team event quarterfinals, I beat Aditi Mutatkar, which was a big upset. But Maharashtra lost to Petroleum Sports Promotion Board 1-2. In the singles, I upset the top seed, Trupti Mrugunde, in the pre-quarterfinals, defeated P. V. Sindhu in the quarterfinals and then overcame Thulasi in the semifinals. In the final I lost to Aditi. Reaching the final of the Nationals gave me a lot of confidence.

On 2010 being a memorable year:

Surely, it was great. In fact, the whole year was fruitful for me. I was runner-up in an international tournament in Estonia. I reached the final of an All-India tournament in Bareilly. All this brought me into the limelight. I have to maintain the momentum now.

On her family which has been a huge inspiration:

As I have said, sport is in my blood. My parents have influenced me a lot. They know what sport is all about; they have given me full support. My sister Abilasha plays cricket for Vidarbha.

On Saina Nehwal:

She is amazing. On-court, her confidence is her biggest strength. That's the way one should play his/her game. She has been a great influence on all the players.

On her National ranking:

Currently, I am ranked No. 2. I was briefly ranked No. 1 in February this year. To get to the top is easy but to remain there is difficult. I'll try my best.

On Gopi Chand Academy:

It's fun out there. It's not hectic as some people think. We all get together and share so many things. I enjoy the atmosphere. The training is good. In fact, it is one of the best academies in India.

On her future plans:

I want to play more international tournaments as I need to improve my World rankings. I will be playing in all the domestic tournaments and at the same time, I will also be taking part in international events.